Baxter – A New Type of Robot

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Photo Courtesy of ReThink Robotics


Baxter – A New Type of Robot


Baxter, a new robot produced by Rethink Robotics, differs from conventional industrial robots. Read about what this may mean for the workplace of the future.  


What today’s robots do


Robots are used to do jobs that humans are unable or unwilling to do. For example, robots explore space and the insides of volcanoes, going where people cannot go. Robots also perform boring or repetitive tasks with impressive speed. Industrial robots mass produce goods; they manufacture, assemble and pack. For example, they weld, glue, paint and assemble the vehicle chassis in car factories.


Today’s traditional industrial robots are kept isolated inside glass cages and behind laser controlled light curtains. This is because they could severely injure a human who accidentally got in their way as they are not equipped with the ability to sense unexpected obstacles and to adjust their actions accordingly.  


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 Why Baxter is different


A new kind of industrial robot named Baxter was introduced into the robotics market in September 2012 by Rethink Robotics.  Baxter is designed to mingle with humans on the factory floor and easier to set up than conventional industrial robots. Baxter is also less expensive than conventional industrial robots. He is touted as a robotic breakthrough - not only because of its safety features and price, but also because of its user friendliness and its great potential for further development.




Unlike its traditional counterparts, Baxter is designed to mingle with its human co-workers without the need for glass cages or light curtains. To facilitate this, Baxter has an elaborate suite of sensors and redundant layers of safety mechanisms to protect the human workers that it assists.  Baxter is designed to slow down when it senses people approaching. It is also designed to adjust its motion if it senses an obstacle in its way. It is meant to perform a variety of repetitive production tasks in manufacturing environments while working safely next to people.


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Easy set-up and affordability


According to the Rethink website, Baxter is significantly less expensive than traditional industrial robots and can be set up and running in an hour. Non-technical factory workers can train Baxter for its jobs by manipulating its robotic arms. This teaches Baxter how to carry out its tasks on the factory floor. Also, there is no need for any expensive programming or costly integration during Baxter’s set up. These features make it more affordable for small companies to introduce robots into their operations for the first time.


Extending Baxter’s capabilities even further


Because Baxter has been developed through the use of open source software, independent developers the world over can refine and extend its robotic capabilities. These developers can provide Baxter with new capabilities that ReThink Robotics has not yet thought of. Baxter may turn out to be the personal computer’s robotic analog.


Will Baxter, mingling freely with humans, become a familiar feature on many factory floors? Only the future can tell.

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All photos courtesy of ReThink Robotics.